Monday, January 31, 2011

Vegan Pizza Day: Sweet Chili Bok Choy Pizza

Anyone a fan of gettin' popped in the mouth by their pizza?

By that, I of course mean putting red pepper flakes on pizza, hands down my favorite condiment for pizza of any kind. Cheese, sauce, and carbs are great, but they really need a little punching up!

So goes the inspiration for my second pizza for Vegan Pizza Day on January 29th. I had another ball of whole grain dough, and with the idea of using an unconventional spicy "sauce" for the pizza and topping it with greens, I made up a Thai-style bok choy pizza.


I initially par-cooked the bok choy with garlic and sesame oil for some added flavor, but after I baked the pie, I realized the veggies would've been much crunchier if I had just piled them on raw- the oil and sauce softened them up too much, and I could've done without the extra oil anyway. Outside of that, this was fun to make AND eat- think of it as being able to combine your fave Thai takeout with your fave pizza delivery! I'm posting the revised version here:

* Spread about 3 tbsp. of Thai sweet chili sauce over your dough.
* Spread about 2 stalks of chopped bok choy over the sauce.
* Top with some chopped smoked tofu (aka- leftovers from my other apple-smoked tofu pizza!)
* Sprinkle about a teaspoon of fresh grated ginger and chopped scallions (about 2 stalks worth) over the bok choy. Sprinkle with a bit of grated garlic, if desired.
* Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes until crust is crisp.

Hope everyone else had a rockin' Vegan Pizza Day!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Vegan Pizza Day: Apple & Smoked Tofu Pizza

So yesterday was Vegan Pizza Day... and if for some reason you must ask why, it's because pizza is so awesome, it deserves to have a special vegan version. And vegan pizza is so special it deserves a celebratory day of its own!

So since I can't argue with pizza of any kind, I took the kitchen to make my own version.



As much as I love my basic marinara sauce & mozzarella variety, I needed to make something fun with contrasting but complimentary flavors. So here comes apple and smoked tofu pizza:

* Start with a whole wheat or whole grain vegan pizza crust. Spread thin apple slices over the dough.
* Sprinkle a 1/4 cup of Daiya cheddar, or your fave vegan cheddar over the apples. Since Daiya tends to be a little on the oily side when heated up, I just stuck with the 1/4 cup; but if you prefer more, by all means add more!
* Spread a few thin slices of smoked tofu over the vegan cheddar- I used half a block of the Wildwood brand smoked tofu.
* Top with caramelized onions- you can easily have these cooking while you spread the dough and start arranging the toppings.
* Sprinkle pizza with some freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of chopped tarragon.
* Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, and enjoy some sweet, smoky, melt-y goodness!

I experimented with one more recipe- a bok choy variety- and I'll post that tomorrow! Enjoy!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

At Vermilion

Date Night must be balanced out by Ladies Night, and so the girls and I made our own Restaurant Week plans at At Vermilion, an Indian-Latin fusion resto in Midtown East.

The upstairs dining room is decorated with oversized black and white portraits on the wall and outfitted with modern, minimalist dining furniture- it's a pretty setting, but seems typical of fusion places. I always thought Latin and Indian flavors were a winning combo, borrowing similar spices are herbs, like cumin and cilantro, and complementary flavors, like tamarind and ancho chili. Here, you'll find it in both the food and the drinks, like the pear-chili vodka cocktail I enjoyed.

Despite the veg-friendliness of Indian cuisine and the flavorful vegetarian options you'll sometimes find in Latin cuisine, At Vermilion doesn't actually have any vegetarian entrees on their regular menu, which seemed pretty shocking to me. I was relieved when I found out that they had one veggie option for each course, but I couldn't understand why their veggie entree (heart of palm and paneer paella) wouldn't have been on the regular menu. I'd barely put my drink order in before realizing that I would never be coming back here.

Which, actually, is all well and good. I started with the artichoke fritters- fried artichoke hearts, served in a banana leaf- and though the fritters themselves were just as described and nothing more, they arrived with a chili dipping sauce that added some needed zest to the artichokes. My entree, the paella with heart of palm, was served in a thick ancho chili sauce with sauteed onions and paneer over basmati rice. More of a Latin-style curry than a paella, it was pleasantly spicy. I'm sure they chose to add hearts of palm to the dish to fancy it up, but still, I'd have preferred if they used a different vegetable, as poaching trees for hearts of palm has driven the plant to near extinction in parts South America- a dangerous delicacy! The desire to make the dish more upscale than it was didn't pay off- heart of palm seemed so out of place and overwhelmed by the ancho chilies. Dessert was a more successful fusion- mango flan with coconut foam and a crust of pink peppercorns. Light, tropical,  delicious, and quickly devoured! I wished the elements of the rest of the meal came together so well!

I imagine other items on the menu are hit or miss as well, and in a city with some of the best Indian food and Latin food one could find, a restaurant that can't do either cuisine well enough doesn't warrant a return visit, especially when obvious vegetarian possibilities are completely overlooked on the regular menu.

However, I'd say if you were near the Grand Central area anyway, their lively, flavorful cocktails are perfect for dealing with the fusion of cranky, overworked personalities you'll find on your train ride back home.


At Vermilion, 480 Lexington Avenue at E. 46th Street, 212-871-6600

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Oak Room

There may have been 20 inches of snow outside, but I wasn't giving up my Restaurant Week reservation for The Oak Room in The Plaza Hotel. After all, it's not very often that a venerable NYC institution offers veggie items on their prix-fixe menu. And, weather as it was, it's not very often that you don't have to deal with crowds in NYC landmarks.

The Oak Room and Oak Bar were built in 1907, and though renovated in 2008, they still retain turn of the century New York grandeur. I spent just as much time staring at the intricate woodwork on the dining room columns and the tile patterns on the floor as I did gazing at my honey (sorry Honey!) It's worth feeling like a tourist for an evening and sitting at the bar for people watching.

Beauty, of course, is not always indicative of good food, so we were eager to see if the Oak Room lived up to its reputation. For their Restaurant Week prix-fixe, there were two veggie options for appetizers- a vegetarian tomato-fennel soup and mixed baby greens, which could be made vegan by omitting the goat cheese- and a solo vegetarian entree, spaghetti with chickpeas, oven-dried tomatoes, and arugula (ask them to leave out the parmesan if you want to make it vegan). Very simple options, but certainly a shift from the tastes of the steak and potatoes crowd that you might expect from older, established restaurants.

I started with the tomato-fennel soup- creamier than I thought it would be (turns out creme fraiche was added), it was rich and warming- just what one needs after commuting during the blizzard. My spaghetti was solid, quite good, but much simpler than what I was expecting from an upscale restaurant. From a little Italian neighborhood joint, sure, but not The Oak Room. Still, it was savory, with just a touch of some red pepper flakes; and with the chickpeas, the pasta was quite filling. Dessert managed to be decadent yet modern- "The Oak Bar", with a chocolate wafer layer, peanut butter nougat, and caramel, with gold leaf pressed into the top of the bar, and served with a scoop of maple ice cream. And yes, it was insanely delish as it sounds.

Though not the most creative options I've had for Restaurant Week, I give The Oak Room credit for putting some healthier, vegetarian items on a menu that's dominated by the usual surf and turf offerings. It's about time. And if anything, embrace the fact that it's not just about the food. Kind of like the Empire State Building- whether you're an NYC native or a tourist, there are many places in the city that you just need to experience.



The Oak Room, 10 Central Park South, 212-758-7777

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Our New Juicer! And Our Fave Juice Recipes

It's here!!! The health nuts that we (sometimes) are, my honey and I decided that our Christmas present to each other this year would be a new juicer!

We did lots of research and watched all too many juicer demo videos on YouTube (most featuring the same very enthusiastic dude sporting Hawaiian shirts!) and knew that we wanted a model that juiced fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens, and we didn't want to spend more than $500 for one. If it could make almond milk or the like, an added bonus, but not required!

If you are in the market for a juicer, I should add that we saw plenty of cheaper models for $100 or so (like the Jack LaLanne brand), but found those models didn't have the benefits of the pricier ones (i.e. couldn't juice leafy greens, had low juice yield, and some that generated too much heat and killed off important raw vitamins and enzymes). And other models that were the vision of juice efficiency, like the Norwalk Juicer, ran over $,1000- and though we figured we'd juice often, we couldn't justify that kind of price tag.

So we originally settled on the Omega VRT350 juicer for $380, which had all the features we wanted and had received some great reviews online. Unfortunately, after putting in orders with several companies, it seemed that the Omega was so good that it was constantly out of stock or on back order. Our supplier kindly recommended the Hurom Slow Juicer with an Ultem Strainer and Ultem Auger, which was $25 cheaper and had all the functions of the Omega juicer, along with the same sturdy construction. Looked good to us, and sure enough, a week later, we had our little bundle of juicing joy arrive via FedEx. 

And it's been great! It's easy to assemble (and though not difficult to clean, it's a bit more time consuming than setting it up) and the parts are a good, sturdy hard plastic construction (though I wouldn't put them in the dishwasher- this is how we ruined our last juicer a couple years ago!). Some vegetables and fruits are more foamy than others when juiced, but we didn't experience too much of this with the Hurom. And though occasionally some bits of greens and fibrous veggies will get stuck in the screen (as to be expected, I suppose), we still get good yield from leafy greens, celery, and ginger. For really juicy fruits and veggies, like strawberries, you can put the pulp back in the juicer and get even more juice from them.

The Hurom was definitely worth every penny, and both my honey and I are excited about finding new, delicious juice combos on the regular. For anyone else interested in juicing, here are some of the awesome juice "recipes" we've concocted in the last few days:

* 1 lb. pkg. strawberries + 1 large navel orange + 2 grapefruit

* 1 pint blueberries + 1 pint strawberries + 1 6 oz. container blackberries

* 1 head broccoli + 1 bunch kale + several sprigs parsley + 1 lemon

* 5 carrots + 1 English cucumber + peeled 1 in. piece of ginger + 1 granny smith apple

* 6 carrots + 3 lemons + 1 orange + 1/2 a honeydew melon for a post-party detox.

* 1 bunch grapes + 1 1/2 cups pomegranate seeds for a power antioxidant juice!

And no doubt, I'll be posting more about our juice endeavors too! :)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mahjong Dumplings

There are plenty of trends I won't get behind- the bacon craze, the cupcake craze, for starters- but dumplings? I'm pretty sure that's a bandwagon I'd jump on.

New Upper East Side dumpling joint, Mahjong Dumplings, boasts offbeat fillings for the typical dumpling, and like any other good New York foodie, I visited the small resto with some friends, my curiosity, and an empty stomach. It was packed, and not just because of the limited seating (which is really an unfortunate situation). As soon as my drinks came out- faster than my food, actually, I realized that the crafty bartender must be the other reason for the masses. Bubble tea cocktails? Um, why is this even a question?

At $4.50 for 3 dumplings, Mahjong is much pricier than other dumpling venues- you can get 8 for $3 at my beloved Chinatown staple, Vanessa's- but I did enjoy their creative takes on their two vegetarian dumpling options. My ratatouille dumplings were covered in a tomato sauce that was surprisingly tasty and savory, but it overwhelmed the finely chopped zucchini-Japanese eggplant stuffing. I found their Ala Farm dumplings much more interesting- drizzled in a cream sauce and sprinkled with bits of fried mushrooms, these ricotta-spinach-mushroom stuffed dumplings managed to be both light and hearty.

For dessert, we indulged in a free bowl (to make up for how long our food took- still, not a good sign in my book) of shaved ice with mango and pineapple chunks, grapes, and shredded coconut- not particularly impressive, but I do like fruit and ice as a combo. We also ordered more decadent fried banana dumplings smothered in chocolate sauce. In quite the mix-up, one of our banana dumplings was a misplaced fried spicy chorizo dumpling- luckily, I did not consume the dumpling with the mistaken identity, but I imagine on a busy night, such switcheroos probably happen quite often.

Mahjong also offers some vegetarian soups and noodle dishes, but their focus remains on meaty dumpling combos. As with other fad restos, I'm not quite sure how often I'll be eating here, especially with such cramped dining quarters and long wait times for food, but if it feels like the Dumpling Festival every day, I'll certainly partake!


Mahjong Dumplings, 1542 2nd Avenue, between 80th and 81st Street, 212-717-7800

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Revd Up Pi

All New Yorkers know that moment- when you realize you've got ten minutes to get some place and you're so hungry that you might gnaw on your own arm before you get there. Sometimes, pizza or falafel on the go is the only way to go. And as I hustled from the East Side to the West Side to catch The Merchant of Venice on Broadway (and for this Shakespeare fan, I still can't stop gushing about it!), I figured I'd do okay with fast food after seeing the "healthy pizza" proclamation outside of Revd Up Pi in Murray Hill.

After experiencing Otarian, I believed fast food had hope. Though I initially balked at having to pay $4.50 for a "Grandpa" slice at Revd Up Pi (having lived in Bensonhurst for years, this was obscene to me), I figured it was a small price to pay for a healthier slice of pizza. And to be honest, I wasn't sure what to make of my slice. Low-fat mozzarella, low-sodium organic sauce, heirloom grain (with quinoa, barley, etc) crust- it sounded like something I would make at home. It was chewier than I thought it would be- definitely not a crisp slice- and it cooled off faster than it should have. I didn't even get halfway down the block before it was cold. And another noticeable misfire on their part- I couldn't understand why they didn't offer vegan pizzas amidst the ready-made pizzas sitting on the counter. There are some vegan options on the menu, luckily, but they were special order- on the day I visited, I would've preferred a vegan slice to just grab & go rather than wait for a special pie to be made, especially since I wouldn't have been able to take leftovers into the theater. Hopefully Revd Up will wise up to this!

Still, the sauce was better than I thought it would be, and my generous basil-adorned slice topped out at 260 calories a slice, while the average NYC slice packs in anywhere from 400 to 800 calories (depending on your toppings) with 10 grams of fat. Their classic NYC slice actually tops out at just 170 calories.

I can't say I'd ever line up outside Revd Up Pi, the way people do for Grimaldi's or Lombardi's; still, I'm an advocate for any healthy place in Midtown, so if you're in the neighborhood anyway, you won't feel particularly guilty coming here.


Revd Up Pi, 451 3rd Avenue at 31st Street, NYC, 212-679-3743 

Friday, January 7, 2011

New Year's Resolutions... or better yet, Intentions

I hope everyone enjoyed their Christmas/New Year's! I'm still getting settled in from mine- after a week and a half of drinking and eating cookies on top of not exercising, I'm actually looking forward to getting back to a routine, which includes more gym and pool time, and fewer sugary treats!

And of course, blogging. I missed that too... so back to it!

When I need a boost of the spiritual variety during my day, I'll often check out the inspirational quotes on Tiny Buddha (my fave as of late: "People who urge you to be realistic generally want you to accept their version of reality"- yeah!!) and some positive posts on Crazy Sexy Life (and if you haven't seen it already, read this month's VegNews cover story on Kris Carr!) And rather than list her New Year's "Resolutions," Carr lists her New Year's "Intentions"- much gentler a word, don't you think? One that is defined by putting thought behind actions... really, the key to making successful changes.

So I'm opening up and sharing my New Year's Intentions with you, with the hopes that we'll get rid of that word "resolution" altogether and that maybe I'll find some great pointers from all of you!

To be more interactive- You might not know, especially if you've just started following me, that I initially started this blog for myself, my friends and family, and left it open for anyone to stumble upon. The self-promoting game is tacky, I thought, and I wasn't trying to cash out in the blogosphere, so why? But as it turns out, since creating a Twitter handle for TheFriendlyVeg this past fall, there's a wonderful community of vegetarian and vegan bloggers like me, with irresistible recipes, big ideas, and plenty of entertaining comments. And though sometimes it can be slightly intimidating to just jump into chats with bloggers who are already familiar with each other, I figure I have nothing to lose and nothing but potential new friends and new reads to gain.

To eat more vegan meals- Though my diet is mostly vegan and I'll try to shop as ethically as possible, I still can't fully call myself vegan- my worst offenses are when I go out to eat, especially when the one meatless option on a menu is stuffed with cheese. Or when I travel, as I'm more of a "do what locals do, and try to eat what locals eat" type of explorer. Well, I can't always control the rest of the world's eating habits, but I can take charge of mine. My other intention is to eat more vegan meals- sometimes it's tough, especially when most of your loved ones are omnis, but I'm not giving up. It's the right thing to do.

To run a 5k this spring- This sounds strange coming from someone who plays soccer, but running is tough. Short sprints I can handle, but this distance running thing is a whole 'nutha ball game. I sure won't turn down a challenge, so I'm determined to start running several days a week, get my endurance up, and at the very least, hold a steady pace and not finish last in a 5k this spring. You're only young once, and if I can learn how to play soccer and how to swim in my mid-20s, I can train myself to run. Wish me luck!

Exert More Creative Energy- Not gonna lie, I envy/admire other bloggers who write full time- I'll sometimes look at the extensive blog posts someone will write a week or all the networking that goes and think, "man, I wish I had time to do that!" If I didn't have a demanding job, I would spend all my time writing (and running several days a week, ha!) too. But I can't compare myself to other people and what they're doing- everyone's situation is different and we've all made choices that have put us into our individual situations. So while my workload might not change, I can at the very least create a game plan for expanding my blog and setting deadlines for myself (I work in journalism, this I know I can do!). If I know I'll be putting in overtime at the office one day, I need to actively plan for what I can do during down moments to feel creatively fulfilled. I suppose in other words, as my yoga teachers would say, make sure there is purpose and thought in every movement. Creativity will stem from there, right?

Well, these might be four lofty intentions, but like anything else, with your heart and mind in the right place and with love and support around you, you really can make it happen!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Spiced Hot Cocoa at Cocoa V


Forget meeting people for a cup of coffee- conversation is that much better over a cup of spiced vegan hot cocoa at Cocoa V!

Last night, I caught up with fellow vegetarian blogger, Jesal, of Veggiewala. If you haven't checked out her blog yet, you'll find a great collection of recipes and dining reviews from across the globe. I'll also be doing some guest posts for her site, so stay tuned!

Amidst waxing poetic on juicers and sharing funny stories of non-veg boys gone by, (now THAT's a topic I could start an entire blog about... hmm...) we indulged in Cocoa V's specialty- vegan hot chocolate spiced with palate-pleasers like cinnamon, cardamom, and my favorite, cayenne. It's a delicately spicy treat, for those who might be intimidated by the sound of cayenne, that maintains the richness of a quality hot cocoa. I'd go as far as to say Cocoa V's cup rivals my non-vegan fave hot chocolate from Vosges. Score!

I didn't get to sample Cocoa V's tempting signature vegan truffles or bon bons, but as I always say, it's just that much more incentive to return to the welcoming little shop. And to Blossom, it's sister restaurant, located on the next block up. This could be dangerous :)

Cocoa V, 174 Ninth Avenue, NYC, 212-242-3339